With characters borrowed from history, media, and personal life, Henry Taylor's potent paintings are careful interrogations of life, particularly of African American life, addressing the themes of class, homelessness, politics, and racial and economic disparity in the United States.Read More
Born in Oxnard, California, Taylor studied journalism and interior design amongst other topics at five colleges across California before working as a psychiatric technician at Camarillo State Mental Hospital in the 1980s and early 1990s. He received a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1995 and began to build his distinctive style, inspired by powerful figurative paintings of American artists such as Alice Neel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jacob Lawrence.
In the early years of his career, Taylor painted on an extensive range of materials including shoebox lids, furniture, and cereal boxes. Untitled (2004), which depicts a desert scene with camels and an oasis, is painted on a row of five cigarette packs, while a piece of found-wood cutting board serves as the canvas for Ardmore (2004), a portrait of a man in a white shirt.
The subjects of Henry Taylor's artworks vary, from friends and family to strangers he encountered on the streets, typically captured in flat and saturated swathes of colour. My Brother Randy (2008), for example, shows one of the artist's seven siblings smiling against a sky-blue background and what appears to be a sofa. At his solo exhibition Henry Taylor With a New Film by Kahlil Joseph at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, in 2016, the artist examined the conditions of homelessness by bringing objects such as bottles, rubbish bags, and a tent into the gallery space. Portraits of anonymous figures were also exhibited, such as a man holding up a cardboard sign in Too Sweet (2016).
Taylor's protagonists are often well-known figures from the African American community borrowed from historical photographs or popular culture. Huey Newton (2007) is based on a photograph of the founder of the Black Panther Party. The photo and its resultant painting shows Newton holding a rifle and a spear. Meanwhile A Jack Move—Proved It (2011) portrays Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. The artist also freely merges time periods, such as in Cicely and Miles Visit the Obamas (2017), which is derived from a famous photograph of Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis from 1968. Instead of attending a film premiere, however, Tyson and Davis have presumably traversed time to visit president of the United States Barack Obama's family in the White House.
Taylor's aptitude has been for creating bold and dignified portrayals in art of African Americans confronting the difficulties they face in daily life. This is especially evident in his artworks depicting victims of police violence, such as Homage to a Brother (2007), a portrait of Sean Bell that was included in the artist's solo art exhibition Sis and Bra at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2007, or THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH! (2017), dedicated to Philando Castile and exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2017.
Taylor lives and works in Los Angeles.
Ocula | 2019